Robert T. Rhode

Robert T. Rhode
Robert T. Rhode

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Majestic Moths 2

Io is a character in Greek myths. A priestess of the goddess Hera, Io attracts the amorous attention of the god Zeus. Hera, who is Zeus’ wife and sister, is furious. Unfortunately, Io becomes a cow. One version says that Zeus transforms Io into a bovine to hide her from the wrathful Hera, but another version holds that Hera changes Io into a cow. Which sounds more likely to you?

Io Moths Photographed by Patrick Coin

As a cow, Io roams much of the classical world. Bosporus (as in the Bosporus strait) means ox passage and refers to one of Io’s wandering routes. Eventually (and why he does not do this sooner is beyond me), Zeus changes Io back into a woman. She has a son and a daughter by Zeus, and she marries an Egyptian king. More children follow. Lots of her descendants are heroes. As a cow, Io had horns, so it was an easy step for people in the classical world to link her to the horned, or crescent, moon.

The io moth flies on moonlit nights … er, on any night, moonlit or moonless. Like the polyphemus moth, the io moth is a member of the Saturniidae family and has prominent eyespots on the hind wings. The females (which, in my experience, are somewhat larger than the males) have a foxy brown color, with some having redder tones than others. Most males are a cheerful yellow, although some have reddish brown forewings somewhat like those of the females. The difference in the coloring of the females and males explains why they are considered dimorphic, which means existing in two distinct forms.

The io moth’s wingspan is between two and a half inches and three and a half inches—not as wide as that of the polyphemus moth and other similar moths.

When I was growing up on a farm in Indiana, I found many io moths. I know they lived in my mother’s vegetable garden because I found the cocoons there. Perhaps the larvae fed on the blackberry plants along the edge of the garden. The io cocoons that I found were insubstantial nothings so flimsy that I could almost see between the tiny threads of which they were composed. They lay among the leaf litter in the dust of the cultivated soil next to the berries that bordered the garden. The scientific name is Automeris io, but this moth has gone under a wide variety of names: Bombyx io, Phalaena io, and Hyperchiria io. Indiana author Gene Stratton–Porter called it Hyperchiria io. I call it spectacular.

Sadly, the number of io moths has declined—some say since the time when a parasitic fly was introduced to help control the gypsy moth. I have found no io moths since I was a lad helping my mother in her garden.  

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Majestic Moths 1

Polyphemus is a character in literature, notably in Greek myth, and makes a memorable appearance in Homer’s epic The Odyssey, written over a thousand years before Christ. A “round eye,” or Cyclops, Polyphemus is a giant who turns out to be a lousy host to Odysseus and his crew on their return from the Trojan War. Polyphemus eats several of Odysseus’ sailors two by two by two. Famously, Odysseus and his remaining men make their escape strapped to the bellies of sheep—beyond the touch of the blinded Polyphemus’ hand.

Polyphemus Moth Photographed by Stephen Lody

When I was growing up on a farm in Indiana, polyphemus moths were attracted to our lighted windows at night, and I found them in the morning. Their wings were works of nature’s art, combining stripes like brightly colored ribbons, tans rivaling those of oak leaves, and magnificent patterns resembling eyes. In high school, I learned that the Hoosier author Gene Stratton–Porter (1863–1924) composed novels featuring the polyphemus moth and other large moths, which she studied in the Limberlost Swamp. At the Lafayette Public Library, I sat for days carefully reading her nonfiction work entitled Moths of the Limberlost (Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1912). I admire Stratton–Porter’s monumental endeavor to capture full-color illustrations of the moths. She lugged heavy cameras and a complete dark room into the swamp and nearby fields. She photographed the moths moments after the adults had emerged from their cocoons. She developed the prints. With the moths beside her, she painted the prints with watercolors until she felt she had faithfully rendered the brilliant yet subtle hues of their wings. Moths of the Limberlost archives and showcases many of the author’s paintings.

My Photo of a Pair of Polyphemus Moths, April 24, 2014

Stratton–Porter felt that she had to record the colors as quickly as possible, for, shortly after the adult moth’s wings have expanded to their greatest extent and have begun to dry, they fade ever so slightly. I wished that I could duplicate Stratton–Porter’s efforts, but I never tried to satisfy that whim.

Throughout my life, though, I have frequently photographed the polyphemus moth and others with whatever camera I had at the time. The scientific name of the moth is Antheraea polyphemus (occasionally given as Telea polyphemus). It is one of the family Saturniidae, so named because concentric circles ring the eyespots on the wings in a way reminiscent of the rings of the planet Saturn. The wingspan of a polyphemus measures between four and six inches. There can be differences in the coloration from one adult to the next, even within the same brood.

Eggs of the polyphemus are whitish flattened ovals encircled by brown stripes. I have found them glued with a few in an erratic row upon a tree leaf such as that of an oak or maple. The eggs hatch into tiny larvae that voraciously nibble at leaves until they must shed their skins for bigger skins that can hold more food. The larvae go through five such instars, or developmental stages. When the larva has eaten its fill, it forms a pupa within a cocoon that it has fashioned for itself. The polyphemus cocoon is attached to a twig for stability. When I mow the lawn in the summer, I often find the old cocoons where they have finally become detached from whatever held them, perhaps during a storm. Invariably, a fuzzy hole at one end tells me that the adult safely emerged from the cocoon long before.

Many of us wonder what we might have become instead of whatever we ended up doing in our careers. I taught literature at the college level, but I often muse about whether entomology, or the study of insects, might have lured me in a different direction back when I was considering the majors I might pursue. Maybe it is better that I explored literature and studied moths like the polyphemus no more deeply than to appreciate their beauty.   

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Tipp City Finds 6 (Last Installment in This Series)

On the Fourth of July in 1912, the American flag changed. It now boasted forty-eight stars, instead of forty-six. New Mexico had joined the union on the 6th of January; Arizona, on the 14th of February. Designs of the flag have differed over the years, with some staggering the rows of stars. One of my finds in Tipp City, Ohio, is a flag from before 1959, when the design was altered to reflect the admission of Alaska. (The flag was soon changed again with the admission of Hawaii.)

A 48-Star Flag
From Crossroads Consignments
In Tipp City, Ohio

I purchased the flag at Crossroads Consignments before owner Becky Peura had yet put a price tag on it. Even though the old flag is not fancy, I fell in love with it. I have a top-of-the-line fifty-star flag with embroidered stars and the proverbial “whole nine yards,” but Becky’s vintage flag spoke to me about the glory of the past. The blue field is merely printed around the star shapes, and the cotton fabric is thin. There are no holes and only light stains that barely show. The inexpensive pole has a honey-toned finish for which I am an automatic sucker. What is it about such amber-colored wood that I find so attractive? Maybe it reminds me of the schools and churches of my happy youth.

My fancy fifty-star flag goes outside on flag-flying days such as Memorial Day, but my old flag remains indoors. It is so thin that breezes might soon shred it. On days of historical significance, I proudly display it in a stand in my solarium.

Whenever I view my old flag, I remember my great uncle that served in the First World War and my father’s first cousin, who served in World War II. I recall Fourth of July celebrations when I was young. I think of patriotic songs performed when I was a member of the famed Marching Hundred Band at Indiana University. Many such recollections crowd my thoughts at the sight of the red, the white, and the blue.

I can hardly pinpoint exactly why I wanted the old flag the moment I laid eyes on it, but I attest that I have never doubted the wisdom of my purchase.   

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Tipp City Finds 5

A great find in Tipp City, Ohio, came from Midwest Memories Antiques. There, I found a statue of Mary Mediatrix. She represents a Philippine tradition within Catholicism. On the 18th of August in 1948, Teresita Castillo noticed a fragrance. Entering her room at the Carmelite nunnery, she saw a woman in brilliant robes who gave her instructions about humility. On a windless 12th of September, Teresita saw a vine shake and heard the woman’s voice telling her to visit the garden for nineteen days. The following day, Teresita again saw the vine move just before she witnessed the reappearance of the woman, who held a golden rosary. The next day, rose petals began to appear in the convent and in the nearby monastery. When a bishop required proof that Teresita was having visions of Mary, Teresita went blind. The prioress heard a woman’s voice instructing her to kiss Teresita’s eyes. The bishop observed the kiss, which restored the girl’s sight immediately. The bishop no longer doubted, but the apparitions are still under investigation. The Archdiocese of Manila has permitted veneration of statues of Mary, called Mediatrix for her ability to participate in the redemptive mission of her son Jesus—provided that such statues are sculpted to conform to Teresita’s descriptions. Mary clasps her hands in prayer and holds a golden rosary. Her bare feet rest on clouds about two feet above the ground. The shaking vines are often incorporated in the sculpture. A statue of Mary Mediatrix has been displayed in Rome.

My Restored Statue, Mary Mediatrix

I am not a Catholic. My parents belonged to the Methodist Church in my hometown and I was confirmed in that faith. For much of my adult life, I have served as an illustrator, and I appreciate many forms of art. I felt that the three-foot statue of Mary Mediatrix needed a good home, as it had already been damaged. The statue must have fallen forward. The cuffs of the sleeves and sections of the rosary were almost entirely missing, fingers had lost their tips, a chunk had vanished from the right big toe, a large section of the hood had been demolished, and the base was chipped in several places.

I went to work. Using self-hardening clay, I carefully restored the missing pieces. When the new finger tips, toe, hood hem, and other parts had dried and had shrunk slightly (as was to be expected), I filled the cracks with a latex product that expands and contracts with the weather without adversely affecting the paint. Finally, I mixed watercolor paints of the high quality used for such statuary and touched up the areas where I had worked.

Crown Similar to Original

For many months, I searched online to find a crown of the size and configuration that accompanied the statue originally. When I discovered one for sale through an auction site, I quickly bid on it and won the item. Now the statue is complete.

Mary Mediatrix is the second statue I have restored. The first is a life-size saint whose hand was missing. Repairing Mary Mediatrix was challenging because her relatively small size meant working with intricate shapes in tight spaces.